NOTE: Sadly, The Birmingham News has dropped my favorite Editorial Page columnist, David Brooks. Below is a condensed version of a column of his I saved years ago.

We now have to work under the assumption that every American has a tattoo. Whether we are at a formal dinner, at a professional luncheon, at a sales conference or arguing before the Supreme Court, we have to assume that everyone in the room is fully tatted up — that under each suit, dress or blouse, there is at least a set of angel wings, a barbed wire armband, a Chinese character or maybe even a fully inked body suit. We have to assume that any casual antitattoo remark will cause offense, even to those we least suspect of self-marking.

Everybody who has been to the beach this summer has observed that tattoos are now everywhere. There are so many spider webs, dolphins, Celtic motifs and yin-yang images spread across the sands, it looks like a New Age symbology conference with love handles.

Today, fashion trends may originate on Death Row, but it takes about a week and a half for baggy jeans, slut styles and tattoos to migrate from Death Row to Wal-Mart.

And that’s the most delightful thing about the whole tattoo fad. A cadre of fashion-forward types thought they were doing something to separate themselves from the vanilla middle classes but are now discovering that the signs etched into their skins are absolutely mainstream. They are at the beach looking across the acres of similar markings and learning there is nothing more conformist than displays of individuality, nothing more risk-free than rebellion, nothing more conservative than youth culture.

Another generation of hipsters, laid low by the ironies of consumerism.

August 27, 2006

(  The complete version of this article can be found at )